Involving American Citizens in Redistricting

December 19th 2018 | Geography, Mapping, Politics, Redistricting

American citizens have never been truly able to choose who they get to vote into office.

The quality of citizen participation – the amount of impact their individual vote will have – almost certainly depends on the officials they have previously elected.

Redistricting in the United States generally depends on the legislators who have been previously elected. In a majority of states, legislators draw the boundaries which determine the voters they will represent. The citizens they represent are almost completely excluded from the process.

Eight states have an independent commission to draw district boundaries, but these commissions aren’t obligated to listen to the citizens, either. Other states have a political commission, a subset of the legislators currently elected.

The system would be fine if it worked. However, the large number of lawsuits consistently filed around something as simple as boundaries on a map and the lack of correlation between popular vote and the number of seats won in certain states show the current redistricting system fails at its intended purpose.

The best way to fix this problem? Involve interested citizens in the process!

While creating meaningful change before the 2022 election will be difficult, Clarity and Rigour is dedicated to helping citizens understand how the current process is broken, and looks to maximize their involvement in the process.

How best to involve the American people in the process? A few ideas:

1. Make the maps easier to create.

Software to create district maps is prohibitively expensive for any normal citizen. Census data, while free and easy to download, comes with its own learning curve. We are currently working to minimize these barriers to entry.

2. Allow citizens to provide input.

Maps drawn by partisans tend to favor the partisans who created the map, regardless of their party. It’s often not hard to create better maps than the ones the legislatures come up with. By allowing citizen maps to be seen, used, and considered by the legislature and judiciary, you will return a map which better represents the will of the people, not the will of the legislators.

3. Create a narrative around districts.

American courts do not define districts geographically, but rather as a collection of contiguous voters. District numbers change even from year to year in some places, making it difficult for voters to create a narrative with the districts they reside in. For instance, in Australia, the Liberal party almost lost the state seat of Brighton, which they had held for over 100 years – the seat even had the same name for an entire century. Ask any average American which congressional district they live in, though, and you’d likely get a blank stare. Creating narratives around the current boundaries will give citizens a way of identifying with the districts in which they live.

4. Provide options to groups of citizens.

There’s no reason why one particular map the legislature comes up with has to be the map. Asking the opinion of a group of citizens in a community which redistricting map they prefer involves more people in civic engagement and will create for a stronger, more functional democracy. This also serves to include people who might not otherwise be able to participate, especially as redistricting turns more technological.

If you are interested in discussing any or all of these methods, please get in contact with us at Clarity and Rigour.